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The New World

Until yesterday morning, I knew exactly what the "New World" was with a deep-seated certainty born from a lifetime of usage of the term. It means North and South America, perhaps the whole Western Hemisphere if you want to generalize a bit. Then I read Chocolate & Zucchini's entry in this week's Wine Blogging Wednesday, and I no longer knew what it meant. The charming and generally insightful Clothilde had gone out and, requesting a New World Riesling from a specialty wine shop, proceeded to buy a wine from South Africa.

Those of you who know your wines might find my bewilderment amusing, but the thought that South Africa might be a New World nation had never once crossed my mind: indeed, it quite went against the definition with which I was familiar.

But consider: Vasco da Gama and his crew were the first Europeans to sail around Africa. The northward currents near Benin meant no southerly sailing route was feasible near the coast. Da Gama etc. used a new sailing technique, sailing far enough out into the Atlantic to catch southerly currents again, an indirect triangular route which made possible sailing around the Cape. When Cabral, Portugese commander, set out in 1500 to follow Vasco da Gama's newly discovered sailing route around the African continent to India, he took a volta which led him so far out into the Atlantic that he made port in Brazil en route, and is thus famed for officially discovering Brazil, at least as far as the Europeans are concerned. As far as European commerce at the turn of the sixteenth century, South Africa was just as much of a newly discovered land as Brazil was. Over the course of the next century or two, Australia and New Zealand joined the list of places about which Europeans had known nothing before.

These days, Wikipedia tells me that the phrase "New World" generally only includes South Africa when speaking of wines. The OED only includes the definition of "Western Hemisphere", and most of you agreed with me on that definition. Talking to C. and seeing the feedback from all of you, however, it looks as if a fair many Brits in particular think of "the New World" as encompassing Australia and New Zealand. North Americans who voted for more encompassing definitions include a junior chef of French descent, a historian who knows her wines, and a Medieval historian specializing in aspects of Great Britain. Is it the influence of historical sensibility, British sources, or wines which guided their votes or their understandings of what the "New World" is? I don't know.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 3rd, 2004 12:30 am (UTC)
I didn't count South Africa on the basis of the distinction between Old World and New World monkeys I learnt at an early age from The Golden Pathway (vol 4, I think). Africa there counted as 'Old World', and there were definite evolutionary differences (NW monkeys do not, if memory serves, have prehensible tails). But with wines it probably means anywhere outside the trad European viniculture areas - and perhaps Iran, given all that Persian poetry about drinking wine.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
Duh: I think it's the other way round with the tails.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 07:52 pm (UTC)
Monkeys are one of the examples given by the OED for why the "Western Hemisphere" is the correct meaning of the phrase, at least to the best of its time and writing. I wonder if Iran would count or not - that's a really interesting question.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 06:30 am (UTC)
that's funny! In my case (1) one of my committtee members was a long 16th century kind of guy, and (2) one of my dad's many hats is wine importer - albeit mostly from Chianti (thus he gets to write off all his trips to Italy), but you never know what you will taste at his house.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 07:51 pm (UTC)
I knew you had a wine background in you somewhere! That explains why. Neat.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 10:56 am (UTC)
Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
Although I suspect that it's only the viniculture wonks that will consistently use "new world" to refer to South Africa, I think you're on the right track with De Gama. This use of the term "new world" does make a little more sense when one looks at a map of the world drawn up prior to the age of exploitation exploration. Pretty much the best world maps available in the 15th century were based on Ptolemy's 2nd century mapping of the world:
1493 World Map based on Ptolemy

Mapmakers continued to print Ptolemaic world maps in the 16th century for purposes of comparison with the modern maps that were becoming available at the same time.
1550 Ptolemaic World Map

The Americas, o'course, don't make any sort of appearance, and neither does the Pacific. The Indian ocean is an inland sea, surrounded by (wholly imaginary) land stretching from Africa to the Far East. While the map's projection shows it to be a portion of a larger globe, there's no point mapping anything but the bits that can be reached by land, or by following a coastline. 17th century mapmakers would still make world maps showing the "ancient world" but would do it using more modern delineations of what land was shown, ad would use modern projections showing the vast portion of the globe that Ptolemy hadn't included.
1660 World Map showing the Ptolemaic world on a "modern" projection

What? You didn't wanna listen to me yakkin'? Sorry. I'll pipe down now.
Dec. 3rd, 2004 07:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
As it happens, I had maps in the back of my mind when I was writing that post. I've been meaning to do a number of posts on the major different kinds of maps in circulation during the Middle Ages, thanks to a friend recently asking me about that topic, but haven't gotten around to it yet. My scanner is handy again, though, so sometime soon would be convenient.

Good to meet a fellow map fan!
Dec. 4th, 2004 05:44 am (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
I'm a map fan, yes, but not so much that as a map dealer... I research them, write about them, talk about them, and am surrounded by 400 year old paper. And then I sell them. (beats grading papers any day of the week though.) The subject may be "God" but my treatment of it is "Mammon." But I do *like* it...

By the way, we've met... 'Member me? James. One of the 2 SSFFS fellers. I had specs and I believe I still affected a beret. Flos_campi can help with context... The other one was devilishly handsome and Dutch. We hadn't posted before, so I hadn't made the S.Worthen connection yet.

Anyhow, I believe Smith's rare book room had 2 examples of the Nuremberg Chronicle, but I wasn't all that mappy when I looked at them then. I don't recall whether they were complete or if the maps had been removed.
Dec. 4th, 2004 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
Of course I remember you! I hadn't made the connection on the basis of your username.

If you aren't a map fan in your current vocation, you would be rather unhappy, I would expect. Sounds like a lovely, lovely job! I find maps are one of the easiest ways for me to follow how historical events progressed. I've taught units on map history, use them extensively as references, but have not actually done any real research on the subject.
Dec. 6th, 2004 11:30 am (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
It is a lovely job, I lucked out bigtime.

You're teaching history now? Cool! I did for a while. I got frustrated by my inability to dwell, as a teacher, on the cool bits of history that excited me... I was forever butting up against curriculum. Feh.

There's so many cool things: I'd love to see what a high school class would do with some areas of map study. I didn't know until I worked with maps, for instance, that during most of the 17th and part of the 18th centuries it was accepted as fact that California was an island, which was depicted as such in maps for better than 100 years.

I once, in the NYC schools, taught a fun lesson on the Battle of Brooklyn that used two maps: One English broadside map showing the progress of the battle, and a NYC subway map. Fun especially since the class was in brooklyn, and the fighting took place in fields that used to occupy my students' projects.
Dec. 14th, 2004 01:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
Well, I'm not currently teaching history. I'm not teaching at all right now - I'm finishing off my dissertation. I'm doing a PhD in Medieval Technology, which is fun. I'm mostly run tutorials along the way, but did have my very own course last fall.

I love your use of maps in the Battle of Brooklyn! That was inspired.
Dec. 14th, 2004 02:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Map feller's button inadvertently pushed
Oo! Ivory tower land! I did medieval history as an undergrad at Hampshire... delightful. Where are you studying nowadays?

I think that the Bttle of Bkln class was one of my best. Had some good stuff for the Chinese Cultural Revolution, too.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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